Published: 08.09.2022

Reading time ca. 5 Min.

Success factor battery: fully charged

No other component is so hotly debated in the context of electric vehicles as the battery. How environmentally compatible is battery production? How should growing demand be met? How are raw material requirements to be covered? The market is very much in a state of flux: companies are positioning themselves, research and development teams are working flat out, and processes are being enhanced or even reengineered. We profile an industry in which sentiment is upbeat.

Foto: Source: Energy storage roadmap, Frauenhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research

Source: Energy storage roadmap, Frauenhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research

Increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries

Global demand for lithium-ion batteries (LIB) was estimated by the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) in its “Roadmap Battery Production Technology 2030” study at 150 gigawatt hours in 2018 – an annual increase in requirements of around 25 percent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) assumes global battery demand of 1 to 1.5 terawatt hours in 2025 in its “Energy Storage Monitoring Study 2018”. This is when the transition from niche to mass market will occur. The Institute anticipates battery demand of between three and six terawatt hours by 2030. Production capacity needs to be created for these fast-growing markets: a lucrative mechanical and plant engineering market.

Cell production: Europe is positioning itself

Cell production for batteries is currently dominated by China, Japan and Korea. Europe does not play a major role and investments in the European market are made mainly by Asian players. In its 2018 study, the Fraunhofer Institute sees considerable efforts being required for that to change: “If Germany or Europe want to be successful in the battery cell business in the long term, medium-term investments of at least ten billion euros will be necessary in production-related research and development as well as in the establishment of cell production facilities. The industry will have to finance the bulk of this requirement and invest amounts in the region of 100 billion euros in the long term.

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How can the battery remain a success factor?

A key criterion for the long-term success of electromobility is the technical enhancement of batteries, as well as production that makes both economic and environmental sense.

There is currently a race to come up with the most successful production technology. It is focused on current lithium-ion generations one to three, which are already produced on an industrial scale.

The fourth generation (all-solid-state and lithium-sulfur) as well as the fifth generation (lithium-air) are currently at the development stage. Processes will have to be adapted to some extent to accommodate these changes.

Germany is leading the way in Europe

Initial steps have already been taken in this direction. Volkswagen opened a pilot line for battery cells in September 2019, Tesla has built a gigafactory in Grünheide near Berlin, which is intended to produce up to 200 gigawatt hours per annum, while Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt, is planning to open a battery factory in Heide (Schleswig-Holstein). An investment volume of one billion euros – VW’s pilot line alone cost more than 100 million euros. At the opening of the pilot line in Salzgitter, Dr. Stefan Sommer, member of the Volkswagen Management Board responsible for Purchasing, emphasized the significance of the battery for the Group’s e-offensive: “Here we are making sure that we are driving the enhancement of battery cells as key components of electrification itself forward, developing new standards and that we are able to move quickly to serial production.”

According to a study by RWTH Aachen, numerous European battery projects have already been actioned or are being planned, as at 2022. Germany clearly stands out at planned production of more than 400 gigawatt hours.

Recycling of battery systems: economic necessity

Objectives include

  • increasing capacity to achieve greater coverage,
  • reducing consumption of scarce raw materials
  • enhancing sustainable manufacturing processes all the way
  • recycling battery systems.

Europe does not have the relevant raw materials. Recycling is therefore not just an environmental but also an economic necessity.

Foto: Scarce raw materials: The recycling of battery systems is an ecological and economic necessity.

Scarce raw materials: The recycling of battery systems is an ecological and economic necessity.

Joint project: ReLieVe

In September 2019, German company BASF (chemicals), the French Suez Group (resource management) and Eramet (mining and metallurgy) as well as European raw materials consortium EIT Raw Materials announced the ReLieVe project: recycling of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

The objective of ReLieVe is to develop an innovative closed-loop materials management system including the creation of an integrated industrial sector, from collection of old batteries to production of new electrode materials. Here too, European players are getting into position to compete in the future.

Location factors in battery production

The VDMA regards a range of factors as key in the race for future production locations: transport costs, for example, can be reduced by siting production close to where sales take place, as can energy and employment costs (which only represent a small percentage of production costs, however) and infrastructure (which can be influenced a great deal by politicians). Besides this, VDMA sees automation and therefore material and process quality as a key determining factor for batteries – the European mechanical engineering sector may have a key locational advantage here.

Complex process design, smart product

Battery production processes are extremely complex and, in many ways, interdependent. In terms of automation and digitalization, one objective must be to make the battery into a smart product. Such products gather data during their own manufacturing process, and this data influences subsequent processing steps. And finally, the in-house recycling process too. This has long been a vision. However, these future production processes harbor the potential for resource and energy efficiency, as well as smart production with as little waste as possible.

Kubota Brabender Technologie feeders are an integral part of battery production.
Bruno Dautzenberg, CEO Kubota Brabender Technologie
Foto: The world’s largest deposits of lithium are in Chile, China, Argentina and Australia.

The world’s largest deposits of lithium are in Chile, China, Argentina and Australia.

Why is a company like Kubota Brabender Technologie concerned with battery production?

CEO Bruno Dautzenberg explains: “On the one hand it is our profound belief that innovations and disruptive technologies must always be on our agenda. On the other hand, Kubota Brabender Technologie feeders are an integral part of battery production: in electrode production, active materials such as graphite, as well as additives like conductive carbon black and binding agents have to be fed into the mixing process. A liquid solvent is added at the next stage - dispersion. This process is one of the challenges as far as speed and the quality of the slurry produced are concerned.”

Battery production: feeding the Kubota Brabender Technologie way

Kubota Brabender Technologie feeders are used both for batch and continuous processing purposes on battery production lines. Batch processing is suitable for larger volumes and particularly for ready-mixed products with better flow characteristics, meaning DDSR60 to DDSR100 and FlexWall® 80- to 155-version twin-screw feeders are ideal for the batch method. For continuous processes, Kubota Brabender Technologie offers production lines consisting largely of space-saving agitator feeders, such as those in the DDSR20 to DDSR60 and DSR28 to 103 series. Customers can therefore produce more in less time.

A range of sometimes hazardous materials are involved in battery production: graphite, lithium-metal oxides, additives, cobalt sulfate compounds for cathodes, as well as graphite, binders and lithium-titanate for anodes. All Kubota Brabender Technologie feeders come with the dust-tight characteristics and precision required for battery manufacturing guaranteed. The feeders have also been designed to handle exacting products with challenging, e.g. sticky properties. Bruno Dautzenberg concludes: “Our plant engineering customers benefit from our many years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, which makes similarly high demands in terms of dust-tightness and precision.”

We are happy to advise you.

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